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The Pursuit of Beauty

I'm M.C.A. Hogarth, author and artist. I write fiction (science fiction, fantasy, romance, etc), nonfiction (mostly about business and parenthood) and draw pictures, mostly of dragons, elves and people in beautiful clothes. I am also currently (as of July 2015) serving as the Vice President of SFWA. Below you can see some of what I'm doing currently, and check up on my status.

     Kickstarter: Nothing planned until 2016!
     Patreon (mcahogarth): Get a la carte short fiction, audiobook segments, coloring book sheets, and whatever else I feel like offering up to people who are tipping me!

     Where do I start? Check my recommendations here, with links!
     Latest Releases: You can use my book launch tag to see what was most recently published.
     Newsletter: Here's my newsletter, which you can join for for news and special offers!

     Latest Sale: Originals are for sale here. My Zazzle store offers prints, mugs, shirts, bags and such! Otherwise you can keep up on my offers on Livejournal through my "sale" tag.
     Archive: If you have a lot of spare time and haven't browsed it yet, I have over 3000 images available on my old website, sketches, paintings and comics.
     Deviantart: I also have a DA account at user mcah.

     Watch this Space!

Balance Card 5-Card Readings: Not Available
Balance Card Keepsake Paintings: Not Available
Commissions: Not taking them.
Illustration projects: Not taking them.

Fan Fiction Policy
Explained here.

Typo Reports
If you find typo or formatting errors in my books, please report them here.

P.O. Box
Email me for my address, if you'd like to request materials or send a tip or donation.

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This weekend on the internet I learned that I am worse for America than foreign terrorists! I feel like I have to live up to this. So have some adorable holiday chalk drawings! The weather was lovely and Child and I took advantage of it. (So did some of the neighbors' kids, who ran over to scribble on our driveway, further destroying America by building local community!)

Santa Whale takes presents to denizens under the sea!

Festive Ray is ready to decorate!

Candy Cane Crane is a little puzzled at her haul.

And Christmas octopus is ready for the holiday!

All art done with Crayola Sidewalk Chalk (48 colors!). Child and I agree that 48 colors is pretty magnificent. We supplement our palette with Crayola's Sidewalk Crayons, which come in super-saturated colors and are creamier in consistency.

Also spotted this weekend, a couple of notable children's books: Samurai Santa: A Very Ninja Christmas is a fun (and action-packed) story about unexpected gifts. And Rudolph Shines Again is a glorious rhyming picture book with beautiful paintings and a notable message (Rudolph's nose stops shining when he feels sorry for himself, and only by thinking of others instead of whining and contemplating his own troubles does he get the glow back).

Finally, 'tis the season for Pentatonix! Because I first discovered them through their Christmas music. A couple of songs, then. Their rendition of Carol of the Bells is one of my favorites:

And finally, for my musician friends, a technical breakdown of their "Angels We Have Heard on High" by a composer who analyzed their choice of chords and harmonies. Fascinating!

And that's it. I think I have been destructive enough tonight! Tomorrow, I will continue hurting America with lunch bag drawings of animals in holiday hats, funny commentaries, and recommendations of cool books I've been reading! Oh, the humanity! Until then, sleep safe in your bunkers tonight!

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Current Mood: tired of hyperbole
Current Music: Pentatonix - Joy to the World

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Just a drive-by posting here to point you to my newsletter, which went today. There's a 50% off sale on holiday cards and a 30% off sale on print books (including my coloring and kids' books, if you're gift-shopping!). Plus, of course, the Rosary sale, which ends Wednesday. :)

(The other thing I've been doing this weekend is refreshing "Family", which has bad backmatter. This has been fixed. *nods*)

Current Mood: working working

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I had this brainstorm in the car and the more I talk with people about it, the more it seems to explain so many things! What if name-signaling (lots of nicknames, nickname pools, titles vs first names, diminutives and respect-modifiers) is a feature linked to guess cultures? Name-signaling conveys a great deal of information without having to say something outright. If your mom usually calls you "sweetheart", the day she calls you by your full name, you know something's going on. (In my house, full name from parents = serious, big trouble).

I had two Japanese friends growing up: super extreme guess culture, and lots of name signaling. Likewise, Southern culture, which gave us 'hon' and 'honey' namepools: guess culture. My own family, which came from a super guess culture: lots and lots of name-signaling. I could tell whether I was in trouble, needed to be on my best behavior, or if I was hearing "grown up stuff", or if I was being teased or given the equivalent of an aural hug, just from the name my family used. Even more: I could tell how important I was to a person by how many names I had from them. Relationships where there were fewer names meant that person wasn't significant in my life (and they didn't need to convey information to me regularly); likewise, relationships where most of the additional names were on one side of the equation (like my parents, who called me by more names than I was allowed to call them) indicated a power disparity. You knew so much based on the names you had at your disposal.

If I work on this theory, it explains a great deal of the cultural friction I've run across when it comes to naming. Think about what you accidentally tell someone with a High Name-Signaling Guess Culture background when you don't name-signal: everything from "you're not important to me" to "I'm angry at you and not telling you," and a million things besides. There's a great deal of emotional and social data missing from the interaction when people from different name-signaling cultures try to communicate.

So! This is my hypothesis: if you come from an ask culture, you have lower name-signaling (use of nicknames, titles, nickname pools, diminutives, augmentatives, etc) than if you come from a guess culture.

Does that match up for you? (You can read more about Ask vs. Guess culture here.)

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Current Mood: !

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Spouse has a usename, or a pet name, or a love name, whatever you want to call those ("darling"). Daughter has two ("sweets" and variations of it, and "child"; "Daughter" is a name of obligation, used only when I want to recall her to some responsibility or duty).

The names I use for them are absolutely not interchangeable, even though there's nothing preventing them from being applied to either a child or a grown man. Spouse cannot be 'sweetheart'. Child cannot be 'darling.'

This happens with all the people who reach a certain level of significance for me. You go from a title ("Mister" or "doctor" or what have you) to a first name, and from there, you acquire a specific nickname of your own... and once you've got that one, that's the one you've got, and no one else can have it. You have a say in that nickname, too; if you hate the one I come up with, I'll change it, and if you suggest something and I agree with it/like it, I'll run with that.

I've noticed a lot of people have a nickname "pool": things like 'hon' and 'babe' get used on everyone. Some folks put people in the nickname pool before they use first names (so strangers and small children are 'hon' before they're 'Fran' or 'Spock'). Other people's nickname pools are applied after first names, as a sign of intimacy (so you only get 'hon' if you matter more than an acquaintance, but you share that nickname with a bunch of other important people).

I notice for the nickname pool people, there's usually less choice involved. If you are admitted to the pool, you get the name; it's how that person signals intimacy or acquaintanceship, and if you object you are rejecting them, not the name, and that causes problems.

I'm guessing there might be people who have both nickname pools and unique nicknames-per-person, but I'm not one of those people so I don't know how that works. Though enough of my readers are now using arii and alet with me that I'm beginning to accept that as a form of nickname pool... and in that case, it's more of a statement of a relationship between myself, my readers, and my readers and one another: a form of claiming of a group identity. "We are the people who know what arii and alet mean." This has fascinated and delighted and humbled me, and while it's not native behavior for me I'm willing to amend it to accommodate people who are passionate about my work.

How about you? How do you handle names? Do you have a nickname pool? Unique nicknames? Do you just not do that at all?

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Current Mood: curious curious

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end of Amulet Rampant


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Current Mood: WHOOT

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It is in the car (as usual) that I realize that the title of Book 4 of the Princes' Game series has to have the same rhythm as Even the Wingless, and I know immediately that it has to be "Only the..."

And then I play with adjectives. The willing? The open? The broken, the fearless? I don't want it to rhyme, even slantwise, with Wingless.

"The feckless," Sediryl suggests, arms crossed, eyeing Jahir and Lisinthir.

"Heedless," Jahir murmurs. "I rather think heedless."

"Feckless has the charm of truth. If truth can be said to be charming," Lisinthir says. "But I am more in favor of 'the Dispensable.' Or," eyeing Jahir, "the Disobedient."

"The reckless," Sediryl says. "It has to be Only the Reckless."

I cover my face with a hand.

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Current Mood: argh

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I'm compiling a list of cool Patreons. If you know of one, tell me! In the meantime, here are some of the ones that have jumped out at me:

Blair's Patreon: Deconstructions and explanations of fight scenes/self defense techniques, weapons, etc.
Puffbird's Patreon: You get coloring book pages!
Benalene's Patreon: You get scented candles!
Dancinghorse's Patreon: Virtual horse camp!
Ursula's Patreon: You get warm fuzzies! Because Ursula!

Tell me about more of these!

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Current Mood: cleaning
Current Music: Christmas music

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Christmas is coming! Which brought angels to mind, and it was a short step from there to "Let's put Rosary on sale!"

So I did! For one week, you can get A Rosary of Stones and Thorns for $1.99! Links to all retailers here!

Oh, so what's it about? An angel, a demon, a priest, and some high school kids who decide to stop the Apocalypse... because they've discovered evidence of God's forgiveness for the Fallen in Heaven. It would be urban fantasy, except there's no snark in it. It is very earnest, full of beautiful set-pieces, and oddly, a lot of world-building. Plus, angels. If you like angels, what else do you need to know about it?

Thinking about the book led me to do this sketch of Lucifer, whom I decided should look a little Persian. (For those who haven't read the book: Lucifer isn't the bad guy.)

Anyway! Expect a mailing list email on the last day of the sale, when I tell people about other Black Friday stuff going on. But I hope you'll pick it up before then, and enjoy my yarn about good, evil, and halos! And if you already have it and liked it, I hope you will tell others so they will take a chance on it. I'd love to write the sequel to it at some point, but it needs more fans first!

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Current Mood: wheesale

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I've run into mulled wine before (and even tried it, and probably failed to do it right—I don't think I added enough sugar). But has anyone seen more serious mulled spirits?

I ask because Lisinthir went and made this hot... punch? I have no idea what it is. I may have to try making it. It has cardamom in it. And orange rinds. o_O

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Hopefully the LJ scheduler will successfully post this while I'm at work. I'll know if I get notifications of comments, I guess!

A brief digression, then, about scent, brought about by my vacillation over what Lisinthir smells like. (Two choices: vetiver, which is smoky and warm and pure and made from a grass, or ambergris, complex and sweet and musky, which is made from whales. Yes, whales.)

Anyway! I am kind of distressed that more books don't mention what things smell like. I like smells. I like the ephemeral smells that people use for decoration, the way I like peppermint soap and am always rubbing my wrists with peppermint oil. I like the enduring ones that tell you what a person's house smells like, and their laundry, and what they eat, the way my best friend in junior high, a Japanese immigrant, always smelled astringent and clean, with lemongrass and vinegar notes. And I like the signalling smells that people give off when they're sick or they've been sweating a long time, and you can tell if they're distressed or tired or in good health.

Apparently there is nothing wrong with our ability to discern and distinguish a broad range of odors; Spouse sent me this fascinating article about languages that have precise terms for describing scents, and how the cultures using them really can identify smells with that degree of accuracy. I don't know what cultural blindness led us to discount or discard scent as a useful sense, but I wish we hadn't! (Maybe that's why I am quietly on board with the essential oil craze that's sweeping us right now. I like smell as an intentional act.)

Whatever the case, it's rare an author tells us much about scent, so I am delighted when an author bothers. Even disgusting ones! But even better when they tell me that a kitchen smells like rich broth simmering, or Christmas smells like cinnamon and spruce trees, or a freshly made bed smells like lavender or pennyroyal. Along with vocal tone, smell is the one thing I wish more authors would write into their stories; unlike vocal tone, it's one of the things authors can easily communicate that creators of more visual media (TV, movies, comics, etc) can't.

What are some of your favorite smells? How about authors or books who use smell well? (And if you have smelled ambergris and vetiver, which do you think I should choose??)

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Current Mood: curious curious

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Let me tell you while I like reading about vampires, but not writing them.

Authors like to use vampires for a variety of reasons. Some think of them as a tool to discuss our fear of death. This doesn't work for me; if a person "dies" and then wakes into the same body without having experienced anything but the equivalent of a good night's sleep, the result isn't a person who's grappled with our existential fear of mortality, but a normal person who now has a chronic disease. Sort of like supernatural diabetes, but with temperature regulation problems and a blood deficit instead of insulin.

That doesn't work for me.

Likewise, the attempt to use vampires as the glorious and inhuman predator metaphor. I get it, I guess, but sociopathic humans can be just as terrifying, maybe even more terrifying, than any of our attempts at recreating that sense of being stalked by something supernaturally ruthless. Pushing vampires too far into the 'brutal predator' mode starts intruding on territory better handled by archetypes like werewolves, where we can more clearly see the battle between our animal natures and our human natures.

So that doesn't work for me either.

When I look at the depictions of vampires that do work for me, one thing stands out: they're used as tools to discuss history. A good vampire injects a thread of historical fiction into any narrative and gives the author the chance to discuss culture shock, changes in mores and beliefs across generations, and the evolution of human society. Stories with "just turned" vampires don't interest me the same way a story with an ancient vampire does. Modern guys freshly bitten feel to me like glorified superhero stories (or glitterstalker fic), and I get that and it can be fun, but it's not the potential I love in a good vampire story.

Give me the ancient Roman who survived into the modern age and tell me how they managed the tumult of history, and what they think about people's accusations of American imperialism now. Tell me about the Renaissance Italian painter balancing a Cintiq on his knee while remembering the smell of egg tempura. Show me the vampire who decided to stay sane by treating every era of history as an elaborate LARP, into which she inserted herself as this character or that before letting herself 'die' and moving on to the next game. Have your vampire hide in a university as a history professor who can go off on "the most amazing lectures about the American Revolution—almost as if they were there!"

A dash of historical fiction in my stories. That's what I want out of vampires in fiction.

So, what's your take on the archetype? And have you read any good vampire stories (particularly in this style!) lately?

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Current Mood: thoughtful thoughtful

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We're getting close! I'm thinking I have... another.... five or six scenes to go? Maybe seven? I'm guessing it's going to clock in at around 100K-ish when I'm done. I've gotten 22K done so far this November, so I'd be surprised if I'm not finished with the draft in December.

While I like counting words, I prefer the "kindle" metric. Every day I load the revised draft onto my kindle so I can browse it during the day, looking for problems or making amendments. The kindle gives you a visual indicator of how long the book is: that row of dots under the title. It's been pleasing to watch that slowly grow until it's longer than some of the books I've been reading.

I'm glad to be writing this book for many reasons, but the foremost one was that it showed me what happens when I let my fears over what people will say about a book control how I write it. I spent so long dithering over this one: "I'll leave out these bits and put them in a separate story so people who like it can find it and people who don't like it don't have to read it! Then I'll put these other bits over here, for people who like that sort of thing, so it doesn't get in the way of the people who only wanted to read the other stuff!"

The result is that the beginning of this book is a complete mess. I left out a huge swath of scenes that make sense of the ending and all the things to come in the next books in the series. It's like the story of the Judgment of Solomon: trying to split the baby killed it.

I'll know better in the future. The books will come with warnings, and readers can decide whether to embark on them or not. Some of them will hate the direction I'm taking the characters, the plots, or the books, but I won't be able to make them happy by wrecking everything in my head.

As it is, I've probably given myself an extra two weeks of work on this book, editing and rewriting, work I could have avoided had I said, "I'm going to write the book I want and need to write, not the one that readers won't get upset at me for writing."

Lately, time has become really precious to me. I won't make this mistake again.

So. Onward, toward the end! Did you know Eldritch only flog their underclass for serious crimes? I do now!

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Current Mood: resolved

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So a new story today, and an incredibly navel-gazy one... I am sorry! Feel free to skip if you want to avoid that today.

I have mentioned my sheltered childhood, and how this fostered my already over-sensitive spirit. I've talked in other journal entries about how poor my memory is, but one of my few memories of childhood was being subjected to a child psychologist because the taunts and cruelties of fellow schoolchildren made my mother fear I'd become suicidal. To my innocent thinking, I had a cool talent (drawing and telling stories) that had always won me praise and admiration before (from parents and relatives), so sharing that would make everyone like me! Right?

You probably know how that went. The answer was both yes and no, with the yeses mixed in with new and discomfiting things (people who wanted to be friends with me just to have access to my talent) and the noes absolutely devastating because no one had ever hated me for something before. Anyway, that didn't go well. I don't dwell on it because it's the past, but it's a good demonstration of how difficult it was for Sheltered Me to deal with criticism, cruelty, and the usual social indifferences and awkwardnesses of growing up.

Fast forward now about six or seven years. I am in college and my world's already been re-arranged by Harsh-for-me Life Experience. My goal is to exit college with an art degree, because I have known since I was a kidling that this was who I was. I was a writer and an artist, a storyteller, and these people were going to teach me how to do it well so I could prosper and do it for the rest of my life (and nothing else!). Problem: I am a narrative artist, and my college is a Fine Arts college mired in the 60's and 70's theories of avant garde art. To say that my professors, my teaching assistants, and all my peers despised, dismissed, or disdained me would not be hyperbole. Most of them hated me. I asked them to teach me to paint, they told me that naturalistic painting went out with Michelangelo. I brought expressionist versions of my characters to critiques and they told me to "leave my Thundercats at home." Even my fellow students avoided me, because I had the "cartoon" plague. I was persona non grata, all the way.

This was the greatest personal existential challenge I'd faced in my life. I had an identity—artist, writer, storyteller—and all the authority figures in my life, for the first time, were telling me I was wrong. Wrong, about who I was! Nothing in my life had prepared me to face that level of cognitive dissonance. Authority figures were supposed to shore you up! They were supposed to help you achieve your goals! They were supposed to agree with you. And if these people didn't agree with me, then... what did that mean?

I could have folded up then. I certainly spent a lot of time crying. But my parents gave me a book and that book saved my life. In it, the hero struggles against the establishment, against cruelty, indifference, pettiness of spirit, incompetence, and outright evil... and never gives up. It was such a monumental story that I knew immediately what it meant: I had a choice. I could be the victim who gave up her dreams, or I could be a hero, struggling against all odds to achieve her goals. I knew which I preferred. I was going to fight for myself, and I was going to win.

...and I did. Not only did I graduate despite all attempts at failing me, but I snuck in behind my faculty's back and arranged myself a single-person gallery show in their graduate gallery, something prohibited to undergrads. By the time they realized That Girl We Hated used up one of the empty time slots, I was already greeting people who'd come to see and appreciate my trite narrative art... and worse, buy it.

That story had given me a framework to view my struggle and the tools to survive it, and I never forgot it.


Fast forward now, to present day Jaguar. For the longest time, I looked with confusion at people who accused me of writing books that were too full of violence, abuse, cruelty—triggers, basically—wondering why these accusations struck me as existential threats. There are negative reviews I can nod my head with ("They're right! I should have done that!") and negative reviews I can find funny (keeping those to myself!), but the ones where people tell me that I've hurt them are the most upsetting.

It's taken me this long to realize why. Because I have always been writing that book that saved me. Over and over, I am duplicating the blueprint I used to learn to overcome my own hardships and griefs and pains. I leave a trail behind me of books that Young Me could have used had she run into this situation first, or that one, and it never occurs to me that these stories might actually have the opposite effect. "This book is a terrible trigger!" someone tells me, and I am appalled, and worse, I am angry, because what I hear is, "You shouldn't write books that tell you how to deal with things that would otherwise cripple you."

My books aren't safe because they can't be. They have to teach me how to live in an unsafe world.

This pause is the pause where I am blinded by epiphany.

I am a little bit in awe, looking now at all my work, how deeply I took the lesson of that first book to heart, and all the other books that saved me by helping me figure out how to cope. Some of those books I read before I needed them. Others, I read long after, and wept because I needed them so badly and didn't have them in time. But I have always seen them as treasure beyond price, because they teach when other teachers failed me.

I've been struggling a long time with the horror of feeling like I write "bad books" or "harsh books." I know better now. My stories aren't for everyone—nobody's stories are—but they're exactly what they need to be for me. Maybe you're here because they're what you need, or maybe you hate everything I write (or most of it). But I'm doing what I'm doing because it saved me before, and knowing that, I can do no less.

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The discussion of safe spaces makes me think of a story.

See, the safest space I ever had was created by my parents. My mother was a zealous shelterer; my father, a lordly and protective influence. As might be expected of people who'd suffered poverty, hunger, exile, and strife, they wanted to do everything in their power to ensure their children were never exposed to the things they underwent. They did a very, very good job. Pets didn't die, they 'went to farms to be with their friends.' Elderly relatives did not end up in nursing homes, they fell out of contact. The worst things that happened to me, like getting an F on a test, were minor in the great scheme of things but loomed enormous in my mind because they were all I had for reference. I had a gentle life out of a picture book. Even fairy tales got rewritten when told to me, because they had 'awful endings.'

And then reality ruined all my parents' hard work by dealing my mom the cancer card, back when cancer was a death sentence. They told her to get her affairs in order, because they'd be shocked if she lived another two years.

I can't imagine what went through my father's head when he realized he was going to be the one to tell his daughters. I don't know that anything was going through his head except getting through the next moment. I learned about my mother's diagnosis by getting off the bus, walking home, and having him say, "Get in the car, we're going to the hospital. Your mother has cancer."

My world shattered.

After that afternoon, my parents did the most amazing cover-up job in the history of parenting. My mother got sick, vomited, almost died—for years—and my sister and I never saw any of it. She lost her hair, unavoidably, but even that turned into a family joke: my mom's wig ended up on my dad's head "because he lost his hair first." Normalcy had to be restored, not just for the children, but for everyone.

But not all the comedy and subterfuge in the world changed that reality struck me, like lightning, and broke me open. I never recovered. Sheltered Jaguar had the strength of her purity of principle, but without any experience dealing with hardship the first challenge she faced left her naked, without a weapon or a shield to face it with. To this day, psychiatrists try to medicate me for the problems I developed because mortality arrived on a sweltering spring afternoon, with no warning, no calling card, and no explanation for its visit... and found me defenseless.

This is the incident I think of when I hear people calling for safe spaces. Because overwhelmingly what I wish for is not an illusion of safety. My own parents, who adored me, could not keep me safe with all their wit, resources, and intimate knowledge of my personality, so how could random strangers who don't know me from Eve manage it as the by-product of a larger crusade? What I want are strategies for how to keep myself safe in any space. I want coping mechanisms I can take with me everywhere, so that the next time violence, terror, mortality, cruelty—reality—comes strolling in without a calling card, it doesn't find me paralyzed like a deer staring down an oncoming car.

If we care about one another, if we want to be good to one another, we will strive not to be cruel or unkind. There is a broad gulf between "keeping everyone safe" and "leaving them to the wolves" where education, support, and training belong, and we seem to have forgotten that. But the world is indifferent to our feelings, and I think we do each other an enormous disservice when we deprive one another of the tools to keep ourselves sane in the face of the inevitable hardships of life. In my mother's case, I am convinced it was not the sheltered daughter of privilege who knew what to do when faced with a fatal cancer prognosis, but the exile who'd survived crippling hunger pangs, poverty, and displacement from her home, culture, language, life. That woman had learned the hard way how to survive... and did.

Give me that, rather than any artificial sense of safety... and so will I.

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Current Mood: pensive pensive

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